The Little Couple’s Jen Arnold Reveals Cancer Diagnosis

As a physician, neonatalogist Dr. Jen Arnold knows that sharing her story can educate people. That’s one o.f the reasons she agreed to have cameras follow her  (and husband Bill Klein) around for the TLC show The Little Couple.

So it is not that surprising that Dr. Arnold is now sharing her battle with a rare uterine cancer.

As fans of the show know, Jen and Bill have been struggling with infertility issues, complicated by Jen’s dwarfism. They adopted a boy, Will, from China earlier in the year, and were in the process of adopting a sister, Zoey,  from India. In fact, Bill and Jen were in India to complete the paperwork when Jen began to have vaginal bleeding. When the bleeding increased, she was forced to return to her home in Houston for medical evaluation.

As it turns out, Jen had been pregnant and miscarried in September. Rarely, tissue from a  failed pregnancy can turn cancerous, and this is what happened to Jen. She was diagnosed with Stage 3 choriocarcinoma. She was originally treated with chemotherapy, but as this did not shrink the tumor, she had to undergo a hysterectomy. In stage 3, cancer has spread to the lung.

“The one time I get pregnant,” Arnold told People magazine, “I get cancer.” But overall, her outlook is positive:

“There are moments I feel just terrible.  I can’t believe it is happening. Other times, I feel like this is just a bump in the road.”

What is Choriocarcinoma?

Choriocarcinoma is a form of cancer that can form in a woman’s uterus (womb). It arises from abnormal cells  in the tissue that would normally become the placenta. The placenta ia an organ that develops during pregnancy to supply the fetus with oxygen and other nutrients.

blastocystChoriocarcinoma is one type of gestational trophoblastic disease, a rare condition in which abnormal cells grow inside the uterus from tissue that forms after conception (the joining of sperm and egg). This tissue is made of trophoblastic cells, which normally surround the fertilized egg in the uterus and help connect the fertilized egg to the wall of the uterus and also form part of the placenta.

The cancer may occur after a normal pregnancy. However, it most often occurs with something called a complete hydatidiform mole.

molar pregnancyHydatidiform mole, or molar pregnancy, results from over-production of the tissue that is supposed to develop into the placenta.  The tissues develop into an abnormal mass.

There are two types:

  • Partial molar pregnancy: There is an abnormal placenta and some fetal development.
  • Complete molar pregnancy: There is an abnormal placenta but no fetus.

The abnormal tissue from the mole can continue to grow even after it is removed, and can turn into cancer. About 50% of all women with a choriocarcinoma had a previous hydatidiform mole, or molar pregnancy.

Choriocarcinomas may also occur after an early miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, or genital tumor.

The most common symptom is vaginal bleeding, especially in a woman who recently had a hydatidiform mole or pregnancy.

Other symptoms may include  irregular vaginal bleeding or pain in the pelvis or abdomen.

Chemotherapy is the main type of treatment, although a hysterectomy and/or radiation therapy are occasionally needed.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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